Not for the first time, questions were better than the answers

Huff and puff hustings: the Croydon BID event at The Wreck last night, the ‘second-best live performance since the place opened…In fact, the second live performance since the place opened’

And with a week to election day, the last of the set-piece hustings was staged at The Wreck at the Fairfield Halls last night. KEN TOWL, pictured right, went along, so that you wouldn’t have to…

So what did we learn?

First, that anyone, other than the most partisan supporters of Farah London, Gavin Palmer and “His Excellency Dr” Winston McKenzie, would have been convinced that these three makeweights were wasting their own and the audience’s time and that DEMOC had been right not to invite them to their hustings three weeks ago.

That may sound harsh. I will explain.

On entering the debating chamber, prospective voters discovered a leaflet for Farah London, the Taking the Initiative Party, on every seat. In addition, next to the platform was a six-foot high image of Farah’s face. None of the other candidates had taken the initiative to break the rules in this way.

After a few minutes, the illegal hoarding was removed and a chastened London took the platform to join the other candidates.

London’s newbie credentials were shown up later when, during questions from the floor, aspiring “Local Conservative™” council candidate for Addington North, Michael Castle, took her to task for having recently described all Conservatives as corrupt. Although she literally had a platform from which to backtrack, apologise or provide evidence for this possible defamation, she did none of these, choosing merely to parrot inanities about Croydon deserving better.

Ex-Tory: Farah London has taken to accusing all Conservatives of being corrupt

London did not say much. She did an impression of a mediocre candidate for head girl, insisting, as if we did not know, that the choice of Mayor was in the hands of us, the voters.

I learned a little more, however, from her tactically placed leaflets. The agricultural policy that had previously taken up five words was now expanded to an aspiration to “replicate the Dutch model for sustainable agriculture” and an assertion that “Croydon will be a leader in fresh produce production”.

London’s problem was that she stumbled over the presentation of the half-formed ideas in her cut-and-paste manifesto. She mentioned the farming but did not explain it. She asked us “consciously” for our votes, and said she would “open the books so that even you would have access to them”. Even us, we unworthy minions?

I know this is not what she meant but it is what she said, and a politician ought to make some attempt to align the two. When she said that the amount of money spent annually on youth was “in single figures” I gave up. What was it? £9?

And so, from farmer to Palmer. The latter has a high opinion of himself, though one not shared by the “Local Conservatives™”, who chose not to select him as their candidate for Mayor. He is now part of a sulky cabal of right-wing “freedom-loving” fringe parties, a man who has effectively cancelled himself.

Ex-Tory: Gavin Palmer, before he discovered his great credentials

“I’ve got lots of talents and attributes,” he said, “I went to Exeter University and I got a 2.1 in Mechanical Engineering.” If the audience gasped in admiration at Palmer’s Upper Second, I did not hear it.

He went on to tell us that he supported Domestos and Sense and Sensibility. I assumed that these were a leading brand of bleach and a novel by Jane Austen, but they appeared to be the beloved code names of Palmer’s pet policies. He did not, however, take the trouble to elucidate. Presumably we were expected to Google for the answers. Dear reader, feel free, and let me know if you find anything.

Alternatively, we can await Palmer’s belated manifesto. It is in imminent danger of publication. At forty-five pages, “It will be,” he promised, “quite tedious.” I suspect he is right about that and further, that were it a mere two pages, it would still be “quite tedious”.

The final makeweight was the honorary “Doctor” McKenzie. He insisted on the nomenclature, twice upbraiding the MC, TV news presenter Faye Barker, for her failure to refer to his honorary doctorates in “Divinity and Humanity”.

Reproached: Faye Barker couldn’t take Winston McKenzie’s bogus claims seriously

McKenzie floundered, out of his depth all evening. His message, essentially, was that, because of his ambassadorial roles, both with the United Nations and with Envirolizer Ltd (a loss-making organic fertilizer company) he could, if elected, bring new inward investment into Croydon.

McKenzie’s claim that “Joining the UN has been the most amazing experience of my life” tested a savvy but polite audience that was working hard to suppress laughter during his oratory perambulation.

If these three candidates were not up to par, the audience was perhaps the star.

Their well-crafted questions gave a revealing glimpse of the people behind the political personae, put the candidates on spot and obliged them to ditch their carefully prepared aphorisms. In fact, the questions generally evoked more applause than the answers.

One such was, “What is your favourite place in Croydon?”

‘Food is my downfall’: Jason Perry, right, revealed many more shortcomings

It was a chance to see if any of the candidates had any borough-related cultural hinterland. Peter Underwood, from the Green Party, understandably extolled the virtues of Croydon’s woodlands and green areas, while Labour’s Val Shawcross liked the small-business buzz of the Crystal Palace Triangle, while the jovial and self-deprecating Jason Perry (“Local Conservatives™”) spoke lovingly of Croydon’s Restaurant “Quarter”.

“Food,” he explained, “is my downfall.”

Unfortunately for Perry, Partygate will probably be his downfall. Presented with an open goal in the shadow of Labour’s bankrupting of the council, all his candidates’ literature has the Conservatives branded as “local” in order to try to disassociate them from the Boris Johnson and his cronies in national government.

The answer from Liberal Democrat Rick Howard was insightful. Last time I saw Howard, he came across as stilted, a little afraid to blow his own trumpet. While still humble, he has grown into the role as a candidate. His answer was palpably honest and human. He liked restaurants, he said, but with young children in tow, would not want to impose them on other customers, so he doesn’t get out much. He spoke wistfully, too, of the Addington Hills, and then Croydon’s pubs. “Pubs are great places,” he said, and should be valued as community spaces.

Another interesting question from the floor, given the nature of the Mayoral vote – where we are asked for our first and second preferences – was how each of the candidates would use their second choice. Howard’s second choice would be Independent candidate Andrew Pelling, and he extolled Pelling’s virtues as a competent, honest and experienced politician at almost unseemly length. Such unpolitical and apparently sincere praise was creditable.

When it was Pelling’s turn to answer the question, he suggested that their politics were similar, both progressive and sincere in their wish to improve the borough. It was starting to look like quite a bromance.

Loud applause: Andrew Pelling

Pelling came into his own when criticising the toxicity of the Labour administration, tore into them for their treatment of tenants, the squalor of Regina Road and then the insult of raising rents and the short-sightedness of reducing the Council Tax rebate for those least able to pay.

He also attacked the management of Fairfield Halls – “This place needs to be open!” – and said he would sack five council cabinet members to save money. This last secured his loudest applause.

McKenzie’s answer to the second choice question? He started with “I ain’t voting for nobody,” then, like a magnanimous Lord Alan Sugar, offered, “Reluctantly, it would have to be Andrew Pelling.”

The recipient of this reluctant ambassadorial praise was briefly taken aback. “Thank you. That’s so kind,” said Pelling, no doubt musing on just how many votes such an endorsement had cost him.

As for London, we will never know: “Only God knows,” she said. Neither Perry nor  Underwood would deign to suggest that anyone was worthy of their second-choice vote. Shawcross suggested either Green or LibDem and Palmer suggested “any independent”.

Most of their answers were moot, of course.

Thumbs up: Let’s hope the sincerity of this bit of gesture politics is not put to the test too soon

Very probably, the only second preferences that count are Labour or Conservative, since the two-party system, despite the best-combined efforts of the Labour Council and the Conservative government, is alive and well in Croydon.

At the count in a week’s time, all candidates apart from the top two will be eliminated after first preference votes are counted, and then second preference votes will count only if they are for one of the two remaining candidates.

This was reflected, perhaps in the performances of Shawcross and Perry, arguably the only two candidates with a real chance of taking the Mayoralty. Their delivery was lacklustre, as if their hearts weren’t in it. And who can blame them? They must be tired out, both mentally and physically, after weeks of intensive campaigning, and after weeks of defending (or distancing themselves from) the indefensible.

Frankly, you wouldn’t want to be in either of their places right now.

Shawcross and Perry both know that what happened in the Fairfield Halls on Thursday was of little real import in the scheme of things. When the audience were asked if they had made up their minds who they would vote for, nearly all of them had. It turns out that the don’t-knows are not the people who turn out at hustings meetings.

What have we learned?

That while three of the candidates are not ready for public office, the other five – Rick Howard, Andrew Pelling, Jason Perry, Val Shawcross and Peter Underwood – probably could do the job well enough. Certainly better than any supposedly strong leader we have had until the council went bust.

Read more: Stumped on the stump: candidates caught out over their second choice

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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
This entry was posted in 2022 council elections, 2022 Croydon Mayor election, Andrew Pelling, Fairfield Halls, Jason Perry, Peter Underwood, Richard Howard, The Wreck, Val Shawcross, Winston McKenzie and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

27 Responses to Not for the first time, questions were better than the answers

  1. Susan Stein says:

    I don’t people will be influenced by Partygate at the Croydon elections. I think they’ll be voting against the administration that bankrupted this council. Unfortunately Valcross will continue this administration if elected as Mayor.

    Why would anyone vote for her?

    • Ken Towl says:

      To keep the Conservatives out? Who knows what people wil be influenced by? Some will want to give the one-rule-for-us-one-rule-for-you Eton boys a kicking, some will be more appalled by what this Labour Council has done.

      How many will say “A plague on both your houses”?

      The difficulty for the independent/LibDem alternatives is that there are a lot of them competing for the “neither of the above” vote.

      • Susan Stein says:

        There’s no Tory ‘Eton Boys’ candidates in Croydon.

        Boris will be voted out soon enough. Don’t waste your local vote on that.

        Vote Shawcross and you’ll get another 5 years of continuity Labour, indiscriminate planning and general incompetence.

  2. Anita Smith says:

    Val Val Val. have you learned nothing?

    At the DEMOC hustings you were laughed at for claiming that the Labour run council had balanced its budget. You also went on to say at the same hustings, that you were embarrassed at what had gone on at the same Council, obviously trying to distance yourself from Croydon’s bankrupt status.

    The smart thing to do would have been to play down your links with Croydon Labour, call yourself something different, invent a new image, but no, what are you doing?

    You are bringing into Croydon the bigwigs of the Labour party. MP’s by the truck load, at least one who will do you no favours if you are trying to win folk over. I speak of the upcoming visit by Angela Rayner, the MP currently embroiled in the Basic Instinct farce. First there was the how very dare you outrage, then oopsie, made a joke about it publicly 3 months before it became a hanging or firing offence. Then there is the no, I didn’t attend a lockdown party with Keir Starmer, oops, sorry I did, but that’s different, cos I’m Labour.

    If your judgement is that swamping Croydon with more Labour faces is a good idea, then how can we trust your judgement on major things that affect our town.

    • “I speak of the upcoming visit by Angela Rayner, the MP currently embroiled in the Basic Instinct farce”.

      What a load of derogatory, trivialising, victim-blaming bollocks

      • Help me out here, Arfur, because there are some tabs that I just won’t read. But isn’t it the case that Rayner did indeed joke about her moves a couple of months before it got reported?

        • You’re right. Angela Rayner is a shameless hussy. That she deliberately flaunted her wares in front of the Prime Minister during a series of national crises is tantamount to treason. A woman who can’t keep her legs together has no place in Parliament.

          Either that or a party led by a serial adulterer, liar, bigot and criminal has decided to distract the public from its serial failings, the latest being #TractorPorngage, by attacking a female member of Her Majesty’s Opposition with schoolboy innuendo bordering on slander. No wonder her detractors won’t reveal their names

          • Colin Cooper says:

            Don’t forget Sir Keir ‘we was still working despite the beer and curry’ Starmer!

  3. John Woodhouse says:

    Vote Green!

  4. miapawz says:

    Pelling for mayor, anyone but labour bankrupt planning nutters for council.

  5. Joshua Berne says:

    Obviously the ideal situation is neither labour nor the conservatives get in, but unfortunately this won’t be the case because of the terrible political system we have. Voting for labour means voting for the same stagnating, shadowy council. Voting Tory means giving more power to the incompetent and complacent national government we have now. Both are promising the world of course and both have been named apart of the financial woes of the council.

    I will be voting for Pelling. He has experience with the council and stood up to the morally bankrupt labour councillors. He isn’t complicit with the decay of our borough, as both major parties are. If you are considering an independent candidate, consider rallying behind Pelling to clearly show your distain with the management of our council for decades! Second choice= No clue, probably lib dem.

  6. Sarah Patterson says:

    I would have liked to have seen Katherine Kerswell on this hustings too.

    On her performance to date and the way in which primary sections of the council are under performing (eg Planning) I have grave concerns about her ability to deliver the election as Croydon’s Returning officer.

    Also, why does she get a separate £30,000 salary for this role? Croydon council tax payers are already funding a full-time post as Chief Executive. Does this mean there is a period when she is not earning her Chief Executive salary and are we therefore due a refund?

    I think the election returning officer role should be included in the Chief Executive role and the £30k Croydon gets from the Electoral Commission goes to essential services in Croydon, not diverted to Katherine Kerswell’s personal bank account. This whole practice seems corrupt and more so in a bankrupt council.

    Kerswell was parachuted in as a stop-gap by the Government to make people redundant- I’m most unhappy she has dug-in and and is now using Croydon as a cash-cow for the pension she’ll soon be drawing down.

    This is Croydon being financially abused once again.

  7. Well I can’t find any information anywhere about why I should vote for any of the candidates standing in Selhurst,other than what party they are representing. Clearly none of them have any enthusiasm or interest in letting the electorate know anything about themselves. For obvious reasons I’m unable to vote for anyone in any way connected in Labour, I need to send my postal vote off today and I’m very frustrated not to be able to find out any information.

    • John Woodhouse says:

      This is a general problem. You can look up the Green Party online. Independents are more tricky.

      • There’s zero info about Catherine or Alexander on the Green Party website. If they want people in Selhurst to vote for them, they’d do well to communicate with us.

    • Anita Smith says:

      Sheila. Have a look at I think his website might answer some of your questions.

      • Jess Walker says:

        If you split the stop labour vote but advocating Pelling, Shawcross gets in.

        I thought that was obvious?

    • Jess Walker says:

      If you want Croydon Planning department to carrying on allowing over-sized buildings on small development sites and generally messing up the environment of our borough, vote Labour.

      If you want this out of control policy which is being forced down the throats of Croydon residents by an out of control Heather Chessbrough stopped, vote Jason Perry.

      I wouldn’t waste your vote on anyone else – Croydon is a two party borough.

  8. The system of a leader and cabinet and the two dominant political parties has failed Croydon completely. That is why the people voted overwhelmingly for change to having a democratically elected mayor. As a consequence we have a much more valuable political debate under way in Croydon and the interest and voices of the people are being given much more importance by the candidates seeking to become mayor.

    Unlike the previous system you have a first choice vote and a second choice vote. This means you can afford to cast your first vote for the individual that you consider to be the best candidate. If, as you say, they are not from one of the main parties and fail to break the hold those parties have on Croydon politics, then your second choice vote will count assuming it is for one of the two candidates who get the most votes at the first count.

    This system therefore really does give a chance for an Independent candidate or one from the less prominent parties to break through and win. One day they will.

    The very popular change brought about by the referendum has improved Croydon democracy enormously and does not suffer from the problem that you raise, because casting your first vote for a less prominent candidate is not a wasted vote. If they don’t win, your second choice vote counts provided it is for one of the two front runners.

    • Jess Walker says:

      If DEMOC are happy with the current planning fiasco continuing they should do what you suggest. They’ll be scattering votes all over the place and Labour Planning Continuity candidate Val C will sweep in…….this election will not break the two party system in Croydon. You’d be exceptionally naive to even think that. This can’t be DEMOC’s position ?? Surely ??

  9. Caroline KIng says:

    Having attended this event not knowing who to vote for, I left it far more convinced by Peter (Green) Richard (Lib Dem) and Andrew (Independent) than I did for either Val or Jason. I wanted change so I’m voting for it now. I’m over the two parties that are both responsible for the downfall in our town because of local or national decisions, it’s not possible to disconnect the two.

    Also, whilst I didn’t find myself wanting to vote for Gavin, Farah or Dr Winston, I was surprised at the snarky/nasty comments made by other members of the audience I was sat near that night (often under muttered breath to their neighbours). It’s one of the pillars of a free democracy that anyone can put themselves forward. They might not be the most polished speakers, and their policies maybe aren’t as well defined or costed, but they put themselves forward, more than most people would do, to take on one of the biggest challenges going. For that reason I’m glad that I got to hear what they had to say and they were part of the event.

  10. Jess Walker says:

    If you want real change be tactical – don’t waste your vote on libs and greens in Croydon – save it for the nationals…….

    • If you put Lib Dem or Green or Independent as first choice and Conservative as second choice and the two candidates with most votes at first count (count of first choice votes) are Labour and Conservative, with neither winning over 50% of total first choice votes (not much chance either will) then your second choice vote for Conservative will count in final count so NOT A WASTED VOTE having your first choice vote as another candidate. Is that now clear?

  11. Anthony Miller says:

    Choices choices. Bancrupting Labour or Morally Brancrupt Tories or a man who has been kicked out of both or the no hopers…

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